Monday, May 5, 2014
Jets draft preview: Defensive line
By Rich Cimini
This is the seventh installment in a position-by-position analysis of the New York Jets as they prepare for the draft:
Position: Defensive line
Current personnel: Muhammad Wilkerson (signed through 2015), Sheldon Richardson (2016), Damon Harrison (2014), Kenrick Ellis (2014), Leger Douzable (2014), Tevita Finau (2016), T.J. Barnes (2016).
Projected starters: Wilkerson, Richardson, Harrison.
Top salary-cap charge: Richardson, $2.3 million.
Scouting report: The gang is together again, which is a good thing. No doubt, the defensive line is the strength of the team, which is what happens when you pick a first-round lineman in each of the last three drafts -- Wilkerson, Quinton Coples (now a linebacker) and Richardson. This group has a chance to be special for many years, as long as injuries, money and ego don't get in the way. It's already a top run-stopping line, as the Jets allowed a league-best 3.35 yards per attempt. Because it's a base 3-4, the Jets don't rely on the linemen to spearhead the pass rush, but there's still room for improvement, especially from Richardson (3.5 sacks), who has the skill set and tenacity to be a double-digit sacker. Wilkerson's production faded toward the end of the season, probably because he was gassed. He played 94 percent of the defensive snaps (988 of 1,048). The coaches must do a better job of rotating and using the depth.
Last DL drafted: Richardson was chosen 13th overall last season, with a pick acquired in the Darrelle Revis trade.
Potential targets: Rex Ryan joked that he and John Idzik will get run out of town if they pick another defensive lineman in the first round. Rest assured, that won't happen, but they could be looking that way late in the draft. Backups Ellis and Douzable will be unrestricted free agents, Harrison a restricted free agent, meaning long-term depth is an issue. They haven't brought any big-name linemen into town for visits, which is telling. They have expressed interest in undersized defensive end Michael Sam (Missouri), who projects as an outside linebacker or situational pass-rusher in the Jets' scheme. Sam, who could be the first openly gay player on an NFL team, will be a huge story wherever he lands -- especially in New York. A late-round possibility is Beau Allen (Wisconsin), in whom the Jets have showed interest.
Need rating (scale of 1 to 10): 2.